Daniel Barenboim continues his re-explorations of Elgar’s music. Previously it was the London Philharmonic (Yvonne Minton in Sea Pictures) for CBS/Sony; now it’s Berlin and Decca – so far the two Symphonies the composer completed, the Cello Concerto (Alisa Weilerstein, over-intense, upstaging herself with the unexpected coupling, a brilliant account of Elliott Carter’s Concerto) and, not heard by me, Gerontius.
Sea Pictures this time falls to Elīna Garanča. There are some nice things, mostly in the orchestra, but even so it’s a fitful assumption of being idiomatic, and the singing is heavily underlined, too operatic (blaring fortissimos) if opulent, and there are times when it’s obvious that English is not Garanča’s first language, trying too hard to enunciate. She saves her best until the final song – ‘The Swimmer’ – quite affecting, but all those years ago Janet Baker and John Barbirolli established their innate credentials from the off.
All is not lost, for Barenboim’s detail-studded conducting of Falstaff is deft, colourful and imaginative, very persuasive. A Symphonic Study it may be officially, from Barenboim it’s a Shakespearean romp, a vivid narrative, relished and cosseted, scintillating scherzo and candid portraiture as one, played and recorded superbly (violins antiphonal), from concerts in the Philharmonie late last year, quiet audience, applause removed, ditto Sea Pictures. This five-star Falstaff will get into my player often. Decca 485 0968.